Suburban writing symposium coming to Kwantlen Surrey campus

By Connor Doyle

On Thursday, Sept. 27, Kwantlen’s creative writing department will host Under-City, Writing The Suburban World, a symposium that poses one question: What role do the suburbs and suburban life play in the world of art and creative expression?

The idea to centre an academic conference around suburbia and its effects on creative writing and other art forms arose from a trend in the minds of creative writing students. One of the faculty symposium organizers, creative writing instructor Aislinn Hunter, explains that two visiting writers individually commented on how they felt Kwantlen writing students were “self-conscious” about being from the suburbs, and were reluctant to embrace it as a setting or topic in their stories.

“It was as if a story set in Surrey or Richmond wasn’t as interesting or viable as one set in Vancouver,” says Hunter. “In the literary world there is often a city-centrism, but I think it’s borne from ease, because it’s easier to point to a big city and say ‘art happens here’ than it is to ferret out smaller pockets of working artists or individual events.”

“Cities are overrated,” argues Claire Matthews, one of the student organizers for the event. “More stuff happens in the suburbs, but we’re all so used to it that it becomes everyday. We think that nobody would want to know what goes on in them, that it’s all boring. But I beg to differ.”

The symposium is not limited solely to writing and the arts; a similar desire to openly discuss suburbia was found in John Rose, a human geographer with a particular interest in demographic characteristics of Canadian suburbs.

“The concept of suburb is surprisingly elusive,” explains Rose, who will take part in Thursday’s symposium as a speaker on a panel entitled ‘Strip Malls and Two-story Houses: How We Define the Suburbs.’ “Broadly speaking, we can think of a suburb as a community that is near to, connected with, but distinctive from, a city.

“But defining or identifying a suburb is no simple task! The suburbs are often trivialized and marginalized as ‘lesser’ places within the modern metropolis, defined more by stereotype than reality.  Suburbs are, however, places that are undergoing rapid changes that belie such stereotypes.”

However, Hunter makes it clear that the symposium organizers are not arguing for the superiority of suburban life. “This isn’t meant to be a ‘rah-rah pro-suburban set of panels and readings.’ We really want a participatory discussion about the suburbs and art and writing. We hope that through discussion we can generate a deeper engagement, contribute a kind of vital energy to the question of what it means to be a creative person here.”

The symposium’s first panel will begin at 10 a.m. and the final reading is scheduled to conclude at 7:30 p.m. Individual events will cost $5 while day passes are going for $15. The symposium will be free for all Kwantlen students.


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